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I first got married at 21. I didn't intend to get married. One evening my girlfriend led the conversation into a general discussion of the institution of marriage, and the next thing I knew we were talking about dates.

I had the guts to break up once. I had my eye on a cute redheaded coworker, and I really didn't want to get married. But, later, I needed a date for a big fraternity dance, and I asked my former fiancée. Somehow, after the dance the engagement was back on, and I didn't have the heart to back out again. Besides, the thing with the redhead never got off the ground.

The wedding took place in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt. Not exactly right, but close enough. It was a big deal, with the gowns and the bridesmaids.

When the day dawned, I got up and thought I might flip a coin, heads the church, tails Mexico. But I didn't. One of my groomsmen had never encountered a shirt that required studs before and didn't have any, so he had to stand extremely straight during the entire ceremony.

In the pictures the bride is a beautiful but determined-looking young woman, and I look like a fairly good-looking unformed sap. And there you have it.

It lasted 11 years. The last 8 were hell. When we married I was a blank slate. When I left I had commanded troops in Vietnam, charged machine guns, all that kind of stuff. I was in no mood to take a lot of crap from a household Hitler. My mother, father, and stepfather had all been married three times, and my dad still had one to go. Her mother was married five times and her father seven, three of them to each other. What chance did we have?

My second marriage was to my perfect hippie chick. We were married by a witch, in a regular living room, but one decorated, in the manner of the time, with lots of shaggy shingles, feathers, and fake jewelry. Our witch-pastor included in the ceremony the phrase "as long as you both shall love" but made no provision for one of us loving and the other not.

The bride looked like an elf princess, and I looked like a surfer Mephistopheles. That one lasted two years and was brought down by the "open marriage" concept that destroyed so many relationships in the early '70s.

I loved her beyond reason, and for the next two years I was prone to breaking into tears at the most inappropriate times. That ended when I sat alone in a house in the woods and screamed for three days. One day I just started screaming, and I screamed until I ran down, then started again.

We're friends now, good friends. But I could never get what we had going again, and until about a year ago every time I thought about it, it broke my heart.

The third marriage was performed by a justice of the peace in Gainesville, Texas, and lasted five years. My wife was beautiful, passionate, and pathologically jealous. Once I accepted a Christmas gift from a woman friend with whom I had never had any sort of romantic relationship. This prompted a barrage of vases and ashtrays. I retaliated, wrecked the living room, tore down a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, hurled a coffee table. I was about to kick in the TV and slash the waterbed when she realized I was serious and shut down.

On another occasion she tried to run me down with a car. I dived over a hedge.

One day, I'd had enough and left.

My fourth marriage, and the bride's third, was in a university chapel. She was not only the most beautiful woman I'd ever been with, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. She made her own gown, and I'll never forget the sight of her arriving at the chapel. Breathtaking!

It was a great friendship and a good business partnership. I had a passion for her, and she had a passion for glamour. We went to New York and both sort of succeeded. I loved her when I married her, and I loved her when I left her. When asked what happened, she has replied, "New York happened." It's as good an explanation as any.

Now, again, I'm in a great relationship. We could save a lot of money on insurance if we married. I'm scared.

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